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BLOG: Who Were the Huguenots?


This week's blog is near and dear to my heart. It's about religious persecution, and namely that of the Huguenots.


Who were they? Why were they persecuted, and what did they believe that was so worthy of punishment? All of these questions will be answered in the body of the blog, for I thought this topic was so very appropriate for our day and age. There are so many special interest groups demanding that people be "tolerant", and yet, some of them are the least tolerant of all.


Rosemary Hayes has a passion for what the Huguenots went through and experienced during their persecution. I can't speak for you, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around a King who would demand the enforced entrapment of people who simply wanted freedom to worship the way they wanted. This was the world of Louis XIV--the so-called Sun King. He may have been the builder of Versailles; a magnificent palace that displaying the grandiose tastes of royalty in his day and age. However, it also became a place where royals isolated themselves from their own people's needs and suffering--a palace of pleasure and indulgence that eventually became the birthplace of revolution.


I welcome Rosemary Hayes to the Journal, and hope she'll visit again, for this particular blog is one of the most fascinating ones that I've hosted. Her obvious research and the corresponding graphics complete this week's feature with true excellence.


Read on, everybody!


Who were the Huguenots?

By Rosemary Hayes


In the early 16th century, the reformist ideas of John Calvin and Martin Luther spread through France and many people embraced their new Protestant doctrines. The French Reformists, who were also known as Huguenots, followed the teachings of Calvin. They believed that the Bible alone gave divine guidance. They rejected the authority of the Pope and they did not believe that salvation could be earned through good works and church rituals. They believed in predestination – that God had preordained certain individuals for salvation and others for damnation.

Neither did they believe in a hierarchical priesthood; they maintained that all believers had direct access to God without the intervention of priests and could approach Him directly. Their worship was simple, focusing on the Word of God and avoiding elaborate symbols and pageantry. They also argued for the separation of church and state.


All this directly challenged the authority of the Catholic church and led to bitter division between Catholics and Protestants, leading to the Wars of Religion which raged in France during the second half of the 16th century where hatred ran deep, armies were raised, and atrocities committed by both sides.


These wars were finally brought to an end through the actions of King Henry IV.

As a Huguenot, Henry was involved in the Wars of Religion and, while King of Navarre, led Protestant forces against the French royal army. When he succeeded to the French throne in 1589, he at first kept the Protestant faith - the only French king to do so - but had to fight against the powerful Catholic League, which denied that he could wear the French crown as a Protestant. After several years of stalemate, he converted to Catholicism, reportedly saying “Paris is well worth a mass”!


Henry was a pragmatic politician, and he promulgated the Edict of Nantes (1598) which granted official tolerance to Protestantism, thereby effectively ending the Wars of Religion and for eighty years or so the Huguenots thrived.


While the Edict of Nantes brought religious peace to France, some hardline Catholics and Huguenots remained dissatisfied and in 1610 Henry was assassinated by a Catholic zealot. Henry was succeeded by his son Louis XIII.


Louis XIII and his Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu, were not so tolerant of the Huguenots. They abhorred their growing influence and attacked their strongholds. Then in June 1629 the Grace of Alais was signed. Although this reaffirmed the Edict of Nantes, it ordered that the Huguenot military organisation should be broken up and Huguenot fortresses destroyed.


So, although the Huguenots continued to be allowed to practise their faith, their trades and their professions, their position was considerably weakened by having no fortifications and no army.


When Louis XIII died in 1643 at the age of 42, his successor, Louis XIV was only four years old. Although his mother had become his regent, Chief Minister Cardinal Jules Mazarin held the true power throughout Louis XIV's early reign. It wasn't until Mazarin died in 1661, when Louis XIV was in his 20s, that the young king finally took control of his kingdom. And he quickly set about reforming France according to his own vision.


His vision included making France a wholly Catholic country. His mantra was ‘One realm, one religion, one King’ and he swore to wipe out the ‘false religion’ of Protestantism once and for all.


Many Huguenots could see the way the wind was blowing and quietly left France to find refuge in Protestant countries.


In France, the rights of Huguenots continued to be systematically eroded by Louis and his advisers and the Edict of Nantes, which had protected them for so long, was finally revoked in 1685. At the time of the revocation, Huguenot pastors were given two weeks to leave the country or face death. However, their congregations were forbidden from leaving because Louis did not want to lose the skills of these hard working and successful people.


Pressure continued to mount and Huguenots’ lives became impossible if they continued to be loyal to their faith. Unless they converted to Catholicism, they would forfeit their property, be unable to practise their professions or trades and their children would be forcibly removed from them to be brought up as Catholics. They were banned from holding gatherings, even in private, and their temples were destroyed.

In many places, on the King’s orders, brutal soldiers were sent in, to force households to convert and thousands did, to save their skins.


Some held out and suffered terribly, others tried to flee the country and were caught and punished, the men sent to row in the galleys in the Mediterranean (a death sentence) or executed, the women imprisoned, and the children sent to be brought up in Catholic institutions.



There are stories of escape where fleeing Huguenots managed to elude their pursuers and make their way to other countries, but also horrific accounts of greedy sea captains taking money from them and then tossing them overboard, of tortures inflicted on those who refused to convert and of refugees hiding on board ships having noxious gas fed into their hiding places. There were plenty of financial rewards offered to those betraying Huguenots and to soldiers finding stowaways, with spies and informers everywhere.


Little wonder, then, that France was emptied of some of its most skilled citizens during these turbulent times. The Protestant countries to which the Huguenots fled were hugely enriched by their presence. Doctors, lawyers, weavers, gold and silversmiths, clockmakers, lace makers, shoe makers, jewellers, glove makers, book binders, perfumers. These folk passed on their skills to those who gave them refuge and became valued citizens of their adopted countries.


All About the Book


16 year old Lidie Brunier has everything; looks, wealth, health and a charming suitor but there are dark clouds on the horizon. Lidie and her family are committed Huguenots and Louis XIV has sworn to stamp out this ‘false religion’ and make France a wholly Catholic country. Gradually Lidie’s comfortable life starts to disintegrate as Huguenots are stripped of all rights and the King sends his brutal soldiers into their homes to force them to become Catholics. Others around her break under pressure but Lidie and her family refuse to convert. With spies everywhere and the ever present threat of violence, they struggle on. Then a shocking betrayal forces Lidie’s hand and her only option is to try and flee the country. A decision that brings unimaginable hardship, terror and tragedy and changes her life forever.


‘One of the very best historical novels I have ever read.’

Sandra Robinson, Huguenot Ancestry Expert



All About Rosemary


Rosemary Hayes has written over fifty books for children and young adults. She writes in different genres, from edgy teenage fiction (The Mark), historical fiction (The Blue Eyed Aborigine and Forgotten Footprints), middle grade fantasy (Loose Connections, The Stonekeeper’s Child and Break Out), to chapter books for early readers and texts for picture books. Many of her books have won or been shortlisted for awards and several have been translated into different languages.


Rosemary has travelled widely but now lives in South Cambridgeshire. She has a background in publishing, having worked for Cambridge University Press before setting up her own company Anglia Young Books which she ran for some years. She has been a reader for a well-known authors’ advisory service and runs creative writing workshops for both children and adults.


Rosemary has recently turned her hand to adult fiction and her historical novel ‘The King’s Command’ is about the terror and tragedy suffered by the French Huguenots during the reign of Louis XIV.



Connect with Rosemary



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